With its unveiling of the top 500 players in baseball, ESPN.com is launching Triple Play, a weekday feature that will run throughout the season and include three ESPN contributors answering three topical questions. For now, the feature will focus on the top 500 rankings, but Triple Play's concentration will shift to the daily MLB buzz once the season begins.
The debut of Triple Play looks at the players ranked from No. 401 to No. 500. Feel free to chime in on Twitter with the hashtag #ESPN500.
1. Which player in the 401-500 range surprised you most?
Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick), ESPN.com:
I'll go with Colorado Rockies reliever Matt Belisle (No. 408). Two years ago, he struck out 91 batters in 92 innings and was a stealth All-Star candidate. Last year, he went 10-4 with a 3.25 ERA. The guy has logged 150 appearances over the past two seasons while maintaining a 3.07 ERA. His presence here only goes to show that pitching middle relief in Colorado is a great way to be underappreciated.
David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield), SweetSpot
Considering he's in a group with utility infielders, platoon outfielders, LOOGYs and Ty Wigginton, John Lannan (No. 417) didn't get much respect. He doesn't blow you away with his fastball, but he has had an ERA under 4.00 in three of his four seasons as a starter, thanks in part to ranking sixth in the majors in double plays since 2008.
Bill Baer (@crashburnalley), Crashburn Alley/SweetSpot
Will Venable (No. 457). He's an above-average hitter with good speed and baserunning efficiency (26-for-29 in steal attempts last year). It seems as though he gets dinged for a low batting average and for playing in a pitchers' park. He does strike out a lot, something he will have to improve to move up in the rankings, especially if he gets regular playing time.
2. Is Vernon Wells (No. 494) that bad?
Crasnick: In January 2011, Keith Law sagely observed that "Vernon Wells isn't a terrible player -- he's a solid player with a terrible contract.'' I'm not sure whether Keith still feels that way after Wells posted a .248 OBP in 2011, but it's clear that much of the ire directed at Wells is a product of his $126 million contract. Vernon and Barry Zito, who didn't make the 500, might want to commiserate over lunch.
Schoenfield: He was that bad in 2011 when his .248 OBP was the lowest by a full-time outfielder (min. 500 PAs) since 1904. Ouch. Truth is, he can still mash a left-hander and there's no way he'll be as bad in 2012 -- because, if he doesn't rebound, he'll either become a platoon left fielder or find himself riding some pine.
Baer: It really depends whether he is as bad as he was last year. His walk rate dipped below 4 percent and his OBP under .250. He was at 6-8 percent and .300-.345 in the four previous years. Remember, as recently as 2010, Wells slugged .515 with 31 home runs, so surely all is not lost for him.
3. Who's the best player who missed the top 500? Where should he rank?
Crasnick: Jordan Lyles, Alex White, Jake Arrieta, Garrett Richards and Tyler Chatwood all have the potential to climb the ranks in a hurry, but I'll take Danny Duffy of the Kansas City Royals. He's left-handed, consistently hits 93 mph on the radar gun and just needs to harness his command. He pitches in a tough park for hitters, and he's going to get every opportunity to succeed in Kansas City. I'd take him over Freddy Garcia, who's 401 on the list.
Schoenfield: Alex Presley plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the second-year outfielder can rake. Never a top prospect, he earned his way to the majors by hitting .320 in the minors in 2010 and .333 last year at Triple-A. He hit .298/.339/.465 in 52 games with Pittsburgh in 2011, and a full season of those numbers makes him a top-300 player.
Baer: I'll also take a Royal, Greg Holland. The 26-year-old whiffed 11.1 per nine last year and walked just 2.9 per nine. Those are numbers on par with the top-tier relievers, and he should be ranked near guys such as Tyler Clippard, who is higher than 401. He will be competing with Jonathan Broxton for high-leverage innings, but he's one of the best "unknown" players out there. And, with Joakim Soria possibly needing surgery, he might not be unknown for very long.